Hollywood has been a space where creative ideas can have a chance to be formed. It might be a book adaptation, an indie, Oscar-contending movie or a mega-franchise that makes boatloads of money, but these these projects start off as nothing more than ideas with potential. But over the past ten years, the paradigm has shifted towards big franchises. Studios make indies movies or innovative films because they’re funded by the success of big movie series.
This has led to some great movies – Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Dark Knight trilogy – but it has also left a lot of failed projects. The lure of money has led studios to greenlight some terrible projects that just didn’t have the appeal to succeed for a single film, let alone multiple sequels. Let’s preface this list by stating that not all of these potential franchise starters failed because they were bad, or because they were complete flops; they just didn’t attain the success and buzz studios were hoping for. Not every franchise is Star Wars or Harry Potter, and heightened expectations are a good way to get disappointing results.
Here are 16 Franchise Starters That Failed.
16. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)
Around the end of the 2000s, Disney was coming off the massive success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and was in search of the next great tentpole series to carry the studio. Disney decided to give Nicolas Cage and National Treasure director John Turteltaub a franchise of their own. Today, Cage is more known as a washed up actor starring in B-list movies, and it makes the decision to cast him as the lead of a huge franchise all the more puzzling, but it happened. Thus was the foundation for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
The new franchise was to be directed by Turteltaub and star Nicolas Cage alongside budding young stars Jay Baruchel and Teresa Palmer. The original idea didn’t quite pan out, and ultimately failed to take up the mantle as the next great Disney franchise. There was even a post-credit scene, a staple of long-running franchises. Costing an estimated $150 million (not including marketing and distribution costs) and grossing only $215 million worldwide, it was far from the money machine an expensive franchise starter is supposed to be. Over the coming years, this was the first of many failed franchise starters by Disney.
15. I Am Number Four (2011)
In the search for the next great franchise, many studios hinged their bet on young adult book adaptations hoping they would stumble upon the next Hunger Games or Harry Potter. Unfortunately, what was found was an array of knock-offs that failed and slipped between the cracks. One of those forgotten franchises is I Am Number Four.
The movie adaptation of Pittacus Lore’s novel was trying to follow in the steps of Harry Potter and spring off the fantasy element with live action. The movie starred up and coming actors Alex Pettyfer and Teresa Palmer alongside Timothy Olyphant. The new premise and cast of actors didn’t quite catch on and the movie failed when it hit theaters in February 2011. The movie didn’t flop, grossing nearly $150 million off a $50 million budget, but it didn’t inspire Disney to continue with a second chapter. Now it highlights the great demise of the YA adaptation genre.
14. Beautiful Creatures (2013)
The sudden and unexpected success of The Twilight Saga made love stories in fantasy worlds all the more appealing. Studios began searching the vast world of popular book series to transform into the next phenomenon, and it appeared Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures was the one to take up the mantle. It featured a star-studded cast that included Jeremy Irons, Emmy Rossum, Viola Davis and Emma Thompson.
When it hit theaters in February 2013, it was just four months after The Twilight Saga had concluded. It was the perfect time for a new series to take over, but unfortunately, it wasn’t Beautiful Creatures. Topping off at a meager $60 million worldwide gross, the $60 million production budget plus marketing officially made the movie a flop. After the disappointing box office intake, Warner Bros. canceled all plans for future adaptations of the remaining novels in the series and the franchise was over before it began.
13. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Anytime David Fincher directs a movie, it’s probably good. His track record speaks for itself: Fight Club, Seven, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, Gone Girl. When he took the reigns of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, expectations went through the roof. The story itself also had a dark tone, and pair that with this signature style, it was bound to be a mature vision of the book.
Casting Daniel Craig and the relatively unknown Rooney Mara, the story of a wizard hacker and journalist stumbling upon a murder mystery become a full-fledged David Fincher film. The movie grossed $232 million off a $90 million budget and was deemed a hit. Considering the R-rating and mature content included, it overcame many barriers. But the money intake didn’t quite reach the levels Sony was hoping for. Talks of a sequel have been on and off while the cast continues to work on other projects. Nearly five years after its release, it seems the franchise is on ice and won’t be revived at all, despite positive returns on the franchise starter.
12. Van Helsing (2004)
Current books aren’t the only source of material for movie adaptations. A key figure in movie history is Dracula, and in 2004, Universal decided to take a modernized approached to Dracula’s nemesis: Van Helsing. The new adaptation cast Hugh Jackman as the titular character and Kate Beckinsale as his love interest. Already versed in the art of directing big-budget films, Stephen Sommers, famous for leading the Mummy franchise, was brought on to direct.
Van Helsing was given a hefty $160 million budget to produce the massive vampire world, and in that, it succeeded. The movie ended up grossing over $300 million worldwide and recouped its budget by nearly twice. That was the end of the good news. The enormous budget gave the movie little room for error, and although it was deemed a success, it didn’t perform to the expectations of the studio. Plans for future sequels never materialized and the franchise was forgotten.
11. Sahara (2005)
The search for the next great franchise has led to some questionable choices. One of the more head-scratching was giving a desert adventure starring Matthew McConaughey an inflated budget of $130 million and expecting in to become a big franchise. The 2005 movie, Sahara, starring McConaughey, Penelope Cruz and Steve Zahn did just that and it rode the gamble into theaters in April 2005. Spoiler alert, the movie flopped.
Sahara brought in just $119 million worldwide and it was deemed one of the biggest flops of 2005. The desert adventure was hoping to ride Matthew McConaughey’s charisma to the bank but that’s where it fell short. It’s not far-fetched to see this movie as a wannabe Indiana Jones, but the execution didn’t quite deliver. The potential franchise ended quite precipitously and whispers of a revival weren’t even entertained.
10. Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)
Another casualty of the YA book adaptation is already forgotten Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. The YA genre was up for grabs after Harry Potter and Twilight concluded by 2012, and many new adaptations were vying to take up their fans. Mortal Instruments was one of the more promising-looking potential franchises, but it ended up just being a mirage. Casting potential star Lily Collins in the lead seemed to set the series in a good place to succeed. When the film hit theaters in August 2013, however, it flopped.
Carrying a $60 million budget, Mortal Instruments only grossed $90 million worldwide. Hardly the numbers a studio wants to see out of a potential franchise. It recouped the production budget, but coupled with the marketing budget, the movie lost money. Even before City of Bones hit theaters, plans for the sequel (City of Ashes) had already begun. After the lackluster box office performance, the sequel was pushed back and ultimately canceled along with the franchise.
9. The Golden Compass (2007)
After the massive success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Line Cinema went searching for the next great franchise in a familiar place: books. The search brought them upon Philip Pullman’s novel, Northern Lights (known as The Golden Compass in North America). The book is another fantasy adventure much like Lord of the Rings. With the chance at a possible franchise, production went ahead on the movie. The star-studded cast included Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, Eva Green, Ian McShane, Kathy Bates and Ian McKellen with Chris Weitz directing.
The movie cost an estimated $180 million and was released in December 2007. The movie eventually grossed $372 million worldwide, enough to save it from flop status. The performance was deemed disappointing and plans for a possible sequel were halted. Compared to the last Lost of the Rings movie, Return of the King, which grossed over $1 billion, New Line’s expectations may have been a little too high.
8. Planet of the Apes (2001)
Tim Burton is no stranger to walking on the fringe of acceptable stylings in Hollywood. What more would you expect from the maker of Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice. After his unique tryst with Batman in the late 80s and early 90s, he took on different projects away from big blockbusters. That was until 2001 when he was at the helm of the remake of Planet of the Apes. Burton was brought on to remake and hopefully launch a franchise out of the 1968 classic. That didn’t quite go according to plan.
The $100 million movie did great at the box office, grossing $362 million worldwide. Where it encountered problems was the movie itself. The polarizing ending to the movie, which served as the basis to hopefully launch the sequel, was reviled by audiences. The movie as a whole wasn’t necessarily loved, but it was the ending that truly divided fans and the movie. There were plans in place to make a sequel if the movie succeeded financially, but given the response, the plans were scrapped. Burton himself said he would never return to make a sequel, and with that the franchise was stuck in development hell until the studio decided to just reboot the series a second time.
7. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Remember when Disney was going through a crisis to find the next great franchise? Another one of the projects they commissioned to become their next big franchise was the video game adaptation of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The movie starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina and was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). The movie was supposed to set up a franchise for Disney and it was expected to carry on the slot left empty by the Pirates franchise, another Bruckheimer production.
Given an enormous $200 million budget, the expectations were high when the movie was released in May 2010. Prince of Persia ended up grossing $336 million, which was not a bad intake, but nowhere near what Disney was hoping for. Also, given its massive marketing budget, the movie lost money. After the less-than-stellar box office response, plans for a sequel were put on the backburner and haven’t been revisited since.
6. Wild Wild West (1999)
Westerns have never quite had breakaway success in recent years. The genre itself is synonymous with John Ford epics and classic films from the golden age of Hollywood, but the last few decades have not been kind to the genre. As a modern blockbuster, lets just say there are a lot of failed attempts. One of them happens to be the Will Smith film, Wild Wild West. On the heels of the success of Men In Black, Will Smith teamed up with his MIB director Barry Sonnenfeld to take a fresh look at westerns. Along for the ride were Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh and Salma Hayek. The movie was given a $170 million budget and it was set to be the next Independence Day. That didn’t happen.
Wild Wild West didn’t quite take off as Warner Bros. was hoping for. It grossed $222 million worldwide, a miniscule sum compared to its budget. The promising franchise starter flamed out so epicly, it stands out as one of the few black eyes in Will Smith’s career. It’s ironic Smith turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix to star in Wild Wild West.
5. The Last Airbender (2010)
Animation series have always been a potential goldmine for studios to seek material for a movie. In comes as no surprise that Avatar: The Last Airbender eventually was picked up to turn into a feature-length film. There was much excitement when plans of the adaptation broke out, but that was until M. Night Shyamalan was brought onboard to direct. Given his recent string of poorly-reviewed movies, the trepidation was warranted.
There was a lot of potential to turn the movie into a franchise and thus the expectations and budget ($150 million) rose to new heights. But the road to its release was a rocky one. Months before it hit theaters, James Cameron’s Avatar became the biggest movie of all time. This forced Shyamalan to change the title to The Last Airbender, given the prefix had forever been claimed by Cameron’s epic. By the time the movie rolled out, the $319 million box office intake served as the background for the huge negative backlash the movie received from critics and fans alike. Since the box office gross wasn’t all that impressive, possible production on a sequel was shut down and the movie was left to be forgotten in the annals of failed franchise starters.
4. Green Lantern (2011)
If you hadn’t noticed, over the past decade, comic book adaptations are a go-to in terms of material for studios. With the built-in audience and appeal of adventure, there is very little that can go wrong with these kinds of movies. But it happens, and one example that stands out like a sore thumb is Green Lantern. The far-fetching adaptation tried really hard to achieve the levels of success The Dark Knight was achieving, but it fell flat.
The big production carried a $200 million price tag, so the stakes were extremely high for the movie to succeed. Green Lantern was released in June 2010, and went on to gross $220 million – a disappointing performance for Warner Bros. The timid box office performance wasn’t the entire story, as the movie was ripped apart by critics and fans. After the negativity subsided, Warner Bros. decided to cancel future plans for a sequel and put it on the back burner. It now lives in infamy as one of the worse comic book movies ever.
3. Jupiter Ascending (2015)
In the 1999, the Wachoswkis’ transcendent movie The Matrix instantly became a classic with its futuristic dystopian world controlled by machines. Neo became the One and the rest is movie history. Ever since The Matrix trilogy ended in 2003, the Wachowskis had been searching for their next big hit. They’ve missed badly on a few attempts but none worse than with 2015’s Jupiter Ascending. The $176 million attempt at craft another visionary masterpiece while also turning it into a lucrative franchise didn’t happen.
Even with Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne and Sean Bean in the cast, the movie didn’t have much appeal. The plot ended up being too laborious to explain in trailers and didn’t connect with fans. The total gross ended up topping out at $184 million. It ended being the third straight flop for the Washowskis and their biggest and boldest attempt at capturing the Matrix magic again. The fizzled-out franchise starter is now considered one of the worst films of 2015 and one of the biggest flops of all time
2. John Carter (2012)
Stop me if this sounds familiar, but Disney has another failed franchise starter. They went through a tough period after the Pirates franchise to find another anchor franchise. In 2012, they adapted Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars for the big screen in hopes of stumbling upon another mega-franchise. Renamed John Carter, the movie went into production with high hopes. Those hopes slightly waned during the turbulent production, during which the budget ballooned up to the crazy figure of $263 million.
Casting unknowns Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins did little to stir up anticipation for the movie. When the movie was released in March 2012, the response was awful. The movie received terrible reviews and the box office gross capped off as $284 million. John Carter turned out to be one of the biggest flops in movie history. It also ended up ruining Taylor Kitsch’s career, as he’s never quite recovered from this misstep.
1. The Lone Ranger (2013)
Creating a special franchise is not an easy thing to do. It if were as easy as throwing money into an expensive production and casting A-list actors, Disney would not be on this list. The most blatant attempt to recycle a franchise was The Lone Ranger. The movie can only be described as Pirates of the Caribbean on land. Bringing back Pirates star Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski did little to differentiate the two movies.
The $225 million epic endured a troubled production, which was entirely shut down by Disney CEO Bob Iger for a while due to the ever expanding budget. By the time the movie hit theaters in July 2013, the movie ended up missing expectations by a wide margin. Grossing only $260 million, the movie missed the studio’s estimates by a wide margin and ended up being one of the biggest flops of all time. Disney ended up taking a loss of about $160-190 million dollars. The failure of the franchise not only stunted Armie Hammer’s career, but it also affected Johnny Depp’s bankability, who hasn’t had a big box office hit since 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The project ended up being a forgettable disaster.
Franchises are tricky. Just because a movie has fancy CGI, a bloated budget and a huge marketing budget behind it doesn’t mean it will turn into the next Harry Potter. But studios make that mistake over and over again. The expectations to conjure up tentpole franchises is too big to ignore and it leads to terrible decisions by studios. A more controlled approach should be taken with franchises. They should be grown and developed rather than conjured up by dollars. It’s a slippery slope and as the list shows, many studios have fallen victim to it.
What do you guys think of the list? Did we leave out a franchise starter that failed to produce a successful franchise? Let us know in the comments down below.
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